Thursday, June 07, 2007
Chasing Phantoms and Living in Reality: 2 of 3, Vocation and Calling
I am thinking of respected elders, father figures if you will, previous architects whom I respect as such (rather than as real estate agents with fancier aesthetic sounding titles), whose gifts were either unaccepted or accepted hesitantly and resentfully by the world. I’ll give three examples in chronological order. In 1974, Lou Kahn (click here) died 500,000 dollars in debt. Who knows how much that would be today. But the reason for such debt was that the market is predicated upon a certain central imporance placed upon “efficiency” (a mechanical term) that runs directly counter to the “creative” and/or poetic process of the artist’s working “in situ,” in which the maker doesn’t necessarily know what the end product will be as it comes forth.
There are counteless stories of annoyed contractors in Kahn’s wake who took him to be nothing but a bumbling fool after having him change aspects of the design in the middle of the building process. Interesting, “bumbling fool” is often how I feel the world looks at me, as confirmed by my now close friends’ descriptions of what they thought of me when they first met me. This series of blogs, however, is an exploration of how maybe there is something wrong not so much with me as with the world. A novel idea.
The next example is that both my professor and W.G. Clark, who worked together in Charleston, S.C. (click here to see an example of their working together in S.C.), are no longer practicing in Charleston. My professor is now obviously a professor, at VA Tech. And W.G. is now a professor at UVA primarily, but has also done a couple private residences in the Charlottesville area. No public works for either since being chased from Charleston by the social machine that is predicated upon and commands that everything remain status quo. Of course, the reason the social machine demands status quo is that it depends upon it. So a new work in downtown Charleston that doesn’t look like its from the colonial era, is of course totally out of place (click here to see what I mean). Anyone else see the irony there (newflash: we aren't in the colonial era anymore)?
The culmination of failed attempts at architecture of men who I respect occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. The link in the margins of my blog, which I have called “Is-Real vs. Real-Estate” explains the story quite well (click here for the story). I regard this as both the culmination of all possible failures and the paver of the path of all probable future failures for two reasons. The first is the obvious public theater of the project. The architect – Libeskind (not Childs) – is caught in the midst of forces bigger than he. What he designed is not what will get built. I think this reflects both the values of our society, and especially how those values run counter to my own, and the overwhelmingly totalizing claim that those values hold upon the governance of the world’s territories. The second reason is my respect for Daniel Libeskind. I believe that if anyone could have pulled off a truly public act of true architecture, it would have been Daniel Libeskind. But in my estimation, he failed miserably. But I can’t really say its his fault.
All in all, then, I have up to now, whether consciously or not, regarded “the world” as the reason for the large scab that appears on the front of my heart. The large scab every now and again opens to a gaping wound when something prompts me out of my numbness into a sudden place of care and passion. A small number of such events will be explored in the next post.
But it should be noted first that, among my many revelations recenly, I have realized that I carry around with me many deep underlying destructive emotions (discussed here). The marks of scabbed wounds. I’ve realized that they aren’t just things that show themselves at certain times or on certain days at work when certain of my architectural values are violated and I get “abundantly” angry (see the next post). Its more of something I carry around with me every day, even when I’m not working, since my work is such a big part of who I am. Especially since I’m a prophet, and I view my character or role largely in terms of what I speak forth into the world, so to speak, my ”vocation” or ”calling”.
The emotions…there is a general and underlying sadness in me at the loss of what seems like even the possibility for true architecutre – globally (witness Clark, my professor, and finally, Libeskind). There is a deeply underlying resentment and anger at the system and at those close to me who seem to be carried away into or by the system to find their value, place, image or identity in the world. These folks close to me, to a degree, determine what I do every day at work (my bosses). And that underlying anger only really manifests itself at certain times when I am confronted with very concrete situations at work - such as when certain stupid and ugly aspects of a building that I had noticed AS being stupid and ugly I come to realize as having been regulated or determined by the money-machine. These are the moments when I decide to care; that’s when I get angry. Otherwise its just like a light and constantly blowing breeze of apathy upon my soul.
To sum up, then, the current state of the world makes me feel like its impossible to fulfill my calling in life. Of course, then, how do I answer when a good friend of mine, although slightly naïve in regards to these issue it seems, asks me, “Would you say you’re a good architect”? For one, I have to ask her, “By whose standards?” For another, I then lament what seems like the impossiblity of the current field of architectural play preventing that question from ever even being answered. My test would occur on one possible filed of play, but the current field of architecture is on the other side of town.
Then, however, there are those times, like recently when someone spoke a Word of hope and coming justice into my soul, when a certain underlying hope and peace in my soul is manifested in my bodily state. These are the times when I believe that goodness, truth and justice not only will and do reign, but will ultimately happen. Of course, it seems, the hope and the anger are inseparably interwoven like some fabric whose pattern I don’t quite know exactly. The next post, then, will explore a bit more of exactly why it is that I’m angry and how I think Proverbs, along with what it is teaching me about the heart, might be calling me to respond.
Your examples of architects committed to excellence who were shunned by the world illustrates the point. It's very hard to tell whether it's you or them when them seem to be doing pretty darned well. We live in a world where popularity and marketplace dominate excellence practically everywhere you look. That's why it's so important to maintain a commitment to principles and exemplars of excellence -- to sustain not just your own ego, but the integrity of principle. Will there come a time when principle and excellence actually win? I'm not sure, especially when multiple companies have to sign on to something that bucks the trend so dramatically. Maybe there's less organized resistance at the individual customer level, but unless they pay attention their tastes too get shaped by popularity and the marketplace. So I empathize.
"It's very hard to tell whether it's you or them when them seem to be doing pretty darned well." Correction: "them" WERE doing pretty darned well. And I think "its the market," and not so much me or them. But that's just what I think at this point.
"Will there come a time when principle and excellence actually win? I'm not sure, especially when multiple companies have to sign on to something that bucks the trend so dramatically. Maybe there's less organized resistance at the individual customer level, but unless they pay attention their tastes too get shaped by popularity and the marketplace. So I empathize."
Thanks. Me too empathize, lol. And I don't know if that time will come for excellence...but it isn't here now, it seems.
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